Dang, Ron Rash can write! These hard scrabble stories are filled with people facing hardships and bad vs. worse choices in a land not filled with plenDang, Ron Rash can write! These hard scrabble stories are filled with people facing hardships and bad vs. worse choices in a land not filled with plenty, but American as all get out.
Short stories are difficult, in my opinion. The author must economize, must build suspense and weave tapestries in a handful of pages, leaving you with an incomplete arc that somehow leaves your belly full. At around 200 pages, this collection does just that.
One hallmark of a great writer is an ear for how people speak, and Mr. Rash does an excellent job of that. For ten years, I lived about an hour from Asheville in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the pages of "Burning Bright" contained voices I've heard.
All of the stories are worth a gander, but my favorites are "Hard Times" (a real doozy), "The Corpse Bird" (I found superstition far more rampant in the South than in Yankeekland), "Lincolnites," and the superlative "The Woman Who Believed in Jaguars." I hate to say too much about each one because you ought to just read it. ...more
**spoiler alert** To be honest, I did not expect much from “A Casual Vacancy,” J.K. Rowling’s first foray into post-Potter adult lit. However, I was p**spoiler alert** To be honest, I did not expect much from “A Casual Vacancy,” J.K. Rowling’s first foray into post-Potter adult lit. However, I was pleasantly surprised and finished the book with a 3.5 star feeling. At least some portion of my enjoyment came from the audiobook version as performed by the marvelous Tom Hollander; his excellent voicing of the characters really brought out each personality.
And what truly shines in this offering is the characterization; in the words of Fats Wall, the people of Pagford and the Fields are authentic. The book seemed to start off a bit slowly, but it takes time to build each character word by word, while painting the general society of the small town of Pagford. By the time you reach the end of the novel, you practically feel enmeshed in the fabric of the town; despite all of the tragedies along the way, I was rather sad to leave. In a way, “ACV” is a drama of manners, not just a character study.
Was there a main character? I say yes, it was Barry Fairbrother’s ghost. Not the ghost “haunting” the message board of Pagford’s council parish, mind you. The thread tying all of the people in the book together was the impact that Barry had while alive or the ripple-effect of his death. His very absence kicked off the fire-storm of accusatory posts against contenders for Barry’s seat; a not-at-all-casual visitation of sins of the father/mother on their children returning to beleaguer them. Anonymousish electronic communication is used at parents when in-person communication is either missing or extremely derogatory.
The two casual vacancies sandwich a bit of soap opera and a bit of muckraking with a lot of real-life situations, both brutal and hum-drum. To say there is no plot in this book is a mistake; characters change or do their best to change from Crystal to Fats to Sukhvinder to Samantha Mollison. So, truly quite an enjoyable book and I look forward to more non-Harry Potter (or more Harry Potter) from Ms. Rowling. ...more
My Great Books Book Club had an excellent discussion about "As I Lay Dying," which I, unfortunately didn't have a chance to read prior to the meeting.My Great Books Book Club had an excellent discussion about "As I Lay Dying," which I, unfortunately didn't have a chance to read prior to the meeting. Alright, I had a chance, but kept doing things like battling weeds and watching the second season of "Broadchurch." I did, however, cheat and watch the recent movie adaptation by James Franco. I suggest watching the movie as a companion to the book. At first, I was annoyed by the split screen break-ins, but realized that it was Mr. Franco's portrayal of the constant point-of-view switches in the novel, in which you never get the whole story in one gulp.
I wish I had written this review after finishing the book, which continued to jangle in my mind for days. Every time I read Faulkner, I'm reminded of what a genius he was. He was able to capture voices, thoughts, images in a realistic, but, at the same time, impressionistic way. It is amazing that "As I Lay Dying" was practically a first draft and still has so much going on. Faulkner claimed that a quote from "The Odyssey" inspired him. The Bundrens definitely go on a convoluted trek through hell on earth (the stench of Addie's corpse in the middle of a Mississippi summer alone is nearly unimaginable), but is far darker than Homer's opus.
As I share the discussion questions from our meeting, do keep in mind that the member of group who crafted them prefers pre-1860 literature, particularly what is considered the core of the Great Books cannon. These questions leave little question as to the opinion of the question writer. I cracked up at questions 1 and 11 and hope you enjoy them as they're atypical of most staid Great Bnoks discussions. The group was quite lively and opinionated and offered many insights.
1. Do you think that the dialogue interfered with the storyline? Why or why not? 2. Did you think that the stream of consciousness technique interfered with the plot? Why or why not? 3. Do you believe that the constant shifting among the characters was effective? Why or why not? 4. The notes to my version of the novel (Harper Vintage) indicate that the title comes from Agamemnon’s speech to Odysseus in Hades, which is paraphrased: “As I lay dying my wife looked at me. . . “Do you think Faulkner intended to portray Anse as being betrayed by Addie. This raises several questions: a. Is Anse a noble or heroic character, as was Agamemnon? b. Did Anse journey to Jefferson solely to bury Addie, or to get his dentures and come home with Addie’s sister? c. Did Anse betray Addie? d. Were Cash and Darl Anse’s sons, and did Anse suspect that they were not his sons? 5. It seems that Vardaman and Darl were not mentally competent, yet people seemed to think that they were spiritual or mystical in some way. What do you think, and why? 6. Is the sequence of events in this story believable? Why or why not? 7. Did you (or could you) identify with any of the characters in this novel? Why or why not? 8. There are passages in the novel, especially those narrated by Vardaman, Darl and Addie where Faulkner seems to be attempting to impart some kind of spiritual truth. Do you think these passages are effective? Why or why not? 9. Do any of the characters in this novel grow in any way? 10. Does Faulkner’s characterization of rural southern people ring true? Did his characterization annoy or bother you? Why or why not? 11. Rhetorical question 1 – who the hell names their kids Jewell (a man) Darl, Vardaman or Dewey Dell (and what the hell is a dewey dell anyway; a moist valley)? 12. Rhetorical question 2 – can anyone really be as dumb as these people are portrayed in the novel?...more
**spoiler alert** Oh, goodness. What is wrong with me that I didn't love this book?!?! I feel that I ought to go sit in a dark room with no books or m**spoiler alert** Oh, goodness. What is wrong with me that I didn't love this book?!?! I feel that I ought to go sit in a dark room with no books or music or wine or nice snacks. Just wretched rice cakes with no water.
There were lovely, meditative moments. Uncovering the painting. Taking an afternoon off and traipsing about the countryside. The flower on his secret love's hat. What more perfect way to recuperate from the horrors of World War I than to spend a summer in a small village full of friendly characters, another soldier searching for a grave, and a really hot reverend's wife?
I have been fascinated with the world between the World Wars and the mettle of the few returnees. Perhaps, the theme that most touched me in "A Month in the Country" was the ability of nature and time to heal, whether the damage is from the horrific battlefield or an unrelentingly unfaithful wife.
It's interesting that Moon chooses to live in something akin to a foxhole, this casting himself out of society, much like his target, Piers Hebron, who we eventually learn was an outcast because of his religion, perhaps picked up during his time conducting Crusades. Is it really a coincidence that his name is Moon and he finds a crescent moon on the uncovered skeleton? Meanwhile, Birkin chooses to perch above the entire town, also casting himself out, but in a more godlike way.
Also, some characters, like Kathy Ellerbeck (modeled after Carr's sister) really lived and breathed. In fact, that whole family was a treat. From the excellent introduction in the New York Review of Books edition by Michael Holyrod, you learn quite a bit about the polymath author. Knowing more about J. L. Carr certainly gave me more depth to the book.
At the end, it seems that Tom Birkin shies away from happiness (not succumbing to Alice Keach's beseeching talk of apple varietals!!) and what Oxgodby offered him that summer, choosing to return to Vinny's nonsense, which was quite sad. Perhaps, he was so damaged that the familiar was better than the real. He simply did not have enough time to heal before taking off the enfolding bandages of the country and spends the rest of his life chasing what he cannot have. And why can't he have happiness? Because he is cold, disconnected. We never hear from Vinny, but one wonders. Tom doesn't even say goodbye to Kathy, one of his medicines, providing both physical and mental sustenance. He doesn't even hug Alice. ...more
"Dreamers" is a delightful, comedic tale full of colorful characters. At first, I thought that the book was just a sweet little story and the perfect"Dreamers" is a delightful, comedic tale full of colorful characters. At first, I thought that the book was just a sweet little story and the perfect snack for a summer's evening. However, after letting the book marinate in my mind for a few days, it occurs to me that the sudden switches in point of view make the quality of the story more dreamlike.
Near the end of the book, oafish and endearing Ove Rolandsen says: "Summer is the time for dreaming, and then you have to stop. But some people go on dreaming all their lives, and cannot change." There are characters in the book who are of the former stripe (Ove, Elise Mack) and those who are of the latter flavor (Miss van Loos, the curate's wife). Thus, the story suggests that living life instead of always imagining what may be is the path to success.
Despite dreamlike elements, the dialogue crackles with realism over 100 years after original publication and I found myself laughing out loud in several spots....more